x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Mind-reading machines

Technology is good fun, unless and until somebody finds a nefarious purpose for it.

Science fiction is on sale at a toy store near you. The brain-to-computer interface - long the stuff of fanciful tales - was first developed for medical experiments. Now, video-gamers can buy "mind-to-machine" headsets for as little as Dh1,200.

The devices measure tiny electric signals stimulated by neurons in the brain, transmit them to a computer - and so allow, for example, a gamer to "shoot" an enemy without moving a muscle.

As with so much technology, it's all fun and games until it falls into the wrong hands. Researchers from the US, UK and Switzerland have now tried their hand at using these hardware-to-neural-network connections to, in effect, read minds. Experiments, presented at this summer's Usenix Security symposium in the US, tested "the possibility of turning this technology against the privacy of its users" by detecting test subjects' bank information and the like. It worked, sort of. Success was partial but undeniable.

This is a long way from actual mind-reading, and if somebody has you involuntarily tethered to a computer, you have problems bigger than disclosure of your bank PIN. But how long will it be until some geek can steal secrets from our brains while we're simply logged into a computer?